A veteran Merced County correctional officer, over the course of a single day in January, is accused of sexually touching three women – an inmate and two Sheriff’s Department employees, according to criminal charges filed by the District Attorney’s Office.
Gregory M. Rich, 40, of Atwater, a seven-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Department, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal case, according to a department news release.
The allegations stem from a series of incidents that are said to have occurred Jan. 27. Rich touched three women: a 21-year-old inmate at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility, a 29-year-old correctional officer and a 43-year-old Sheriff’s Department contract employee, according to the complaint filed in Merced Superior Court.
Sheriff Vern Warnke called the allegations “disappointing” and “very serious.”
“To have anything happen that would warrant criminal charges is not a reflection on the rest of the men and women who wear this badge and work in this department,” Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star. “Inmates and (co-workers) should not have to be protected from correctional officers.”
Sgt. Delray Shelton, a department spokesman, confirmed that Rich has not been arrested or booked into any jail, saying arrests are considered “on a case-by-case basis.”
“He’s not a flight risk, and he doesn’t have access to the victims,” Shelton said.
Merced County prosecutors on Feb. 16 charged Rich with a felony count of assault by a public officer and three misdemeanor counts of sexual battery, court records show.
If convicted, Rich could get up to four years six months in jail and would have to register as a sex offender, according to Harold Nutt, chief deputy district attorney.
Efforts to reach Rich by telephone on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Rich is scheduled for arraignment March 19 before Judge Mark V. Bacciarini, court records show.
Warnke said the department became aware of the allegations Jan. 29 and “immediately took action.” The sheriff confirmed that all three of the women came forward independently and “have very little, if any, interaction with one another.”
“That’s why we took this very seriously and moved so quickly because they don’t work together and all this came in independently,” Warnke said. “We really hope things like this are just isolated incidents, but any incident that does come up will always be investigated aggressively and handled to the fullest extent of the law.”
Rich was on vacation from around the day of the suspected incidents until Feb. 7, when he was placed on leave, the Sheriff’s Department said.
According to county spokesman Mike North, Rich has been a correctional officer there since August 2007.